A Swedish study suggests that light massage can reduce pain, anxiety and the need for opioid medication in terminally ill patients.
Coauthor Linda Bjorkhem-Bergman told Reuters Health: “All end-of-life patients experience existential pain or existential suffering. This pain is difficult to treat pharmacologically and complementary methods, such as massage, provide an alternative.”
Bergman and colleagues studied 41 hospice patients who received tactile massage of the hands, feet or back, depending upon the individual’s preference. Tactile massage is a type of light massage that does not involve deep tissue penetration.
Patients received an average of three treatments lasting 15 to 45 minutes. Afterward, their perceived pain, well-being and anxiety decreased by approximately 2 points on a 10-point scale, indicating an improvement. The effect was obvious after the first session and persisted after later treatments, researchers found.
Researchers wrote in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care journal: “Patients requested just half their typical dose medication in the 24 hours following the superficial touch therapy.”
Answering a question on the massage of hands, feet and back, Dr. Bergman said in an email: “It’s probably the stimulation of the more sensitive receptors in these areas of the skin that release positive hormones.”
The chief hormone released, oxytocin, is known to stimulate feelings of well-being and comfort, while cortisol and nitric oxide, both considered “stress” hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate, are inhibited.